Sergio Tofano’s Signor Bonaventura: there is hope for all good men

Signor Bonaventura proves there is always a way out for good men. The character, with his hat and red frock coat, was invented by Sergio Tofano, also known as Sto, to show how good people – despite their flaws, missteps and mistakes – can avoid what may seem like a fated negative outcome even in the most complicated and down-spiraling situations. There is always hope, represented by that “one million” check that comes up at the end of each adventure (or catastrophe, or mishap: words that introduced every episode of the comic strip).

Piedmontese writer Gianni Rodari, who was a fan of Signor Bonaventura since childhood, aptly commented, “Further down the road, there is always this million – just like above the clouds there is the sun even during the most terrible storms.”

Sergio Tofano (Rome, 1886-1973) was an illustrator as well as a playwright, costume and set designer, director, actor, poet, and theater company leader.

Signor Bonaventura first appeared in 1917, on the weekly children’s magazine “Corriere dei Piccoli”; comic strips at the time didn’t have balloons: words were set like captions under the illustrations, framed by small rectangles.

Sto’s full-color vignettes were accompanied by text in verse, precisely organized into octosyllabic rhyming couplets – telling the story of a good man with a knack for getting into all kinds of trouble.

At one point, concerned that a constant happy ending might become boring, Sto tried to add a few episodes in which Signor Bonaventura was so unlucky to lose the million (which in the 1970s had become a “billion” due to inflation). Readers protested with great vehemence.

They felt Bonaventura belonged to them, and wouldn’t allow anyone – not even Sto – to smother the hope he represented for all good men.

Photos via: illustrations from: Sto, “Qui comincia l’avventura del Signor Bonaventura”, Rizzoli, Milan 1974

July 4, 2014